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Grudge Match (2013)
Sylvester Stallone must really love boxing. After returning to the Rocky films this past decade, he once again enters the ring in Grudge Match. But the smart thing here is that he's kind of poking fun at himself. Instead of trying to play a younger boxer which wouldn't be realistic anymore at his age, he plays a retired boxer who really is old this time around.
The story focuses on a rivalry between two boxers who fought each other a couple of times 30 years ago, winning one fight apiece. Naturally, that situation calls for a "rubber match" to decide the true winner. But it never happened. Hostility remains between the two guys 3 decades later though. Stallone plays Henry "Razor" Sharp and Robert De Niro plays Billy "The Kid" McDonnen. When the two both arrive on set for a computer-simulated video game that will use their likenesses, they engage in a physical altercation which soon goes viral for all the world to see. This prompts a desire to see the two of them in the ring together once again.
Kevin Hart plays the loud-mouth promoter who puts the fight on. He plays the same type of character he always plays, but still very funny nonetheless. The same goes for a funny Alan Arkin as Stallone's trainer who also plays the same type of character that he always does. So there's nothing truly unique about the movie, but it doesn't take itself too seriously and that's kind of a good thing. It focuses on the funny for the most part, but also adds some depth to the characters when it shows the struggles they're having in their personal lives. That's part of the reason they agree to do the fight... along with a genuine grudge the two still have between each other after all these years. Some of the jokes can be lame at times, but there are some good zingers here and there when seeing the two old guys poke fun at each other. And the fight at the end of the film is done well and worth waiting for.
An old-fashioned throwback
Disney, when are you ever going to join the 21st century? Its animation studio just stays living in the past. The new Disney film Frozen could have easily been made in the 1940's. It is based on a classic fairy tale known as The Snow Queen. But you would think that in 2013 they might try to make it appeal to people today. Well you'd be wrong.
If you've seen the trailer for this movie, they market it as a movie more in the vein of Ice Age. There's a funny-looking snowman walking on ice and struggling to stay on his feet; he later winds up sneezing so hard that he blows his head off. All you see is the snowman and a likable moose. Instead, Frozen is actually a ridiculously old-fashioned movie about princesses. This movie is more like The Sound of Music than anything from this century. The songs all sound old and dated, just like everything else in the movie. The only good thing in the movie is that snowman, and they don't even bring him in until halfway through the film.
I understand that this is a movie aimed at kids, but most knowledgeable film studios nowadays at least try to entertain the adults watching as well. I was bored out of my mind. Then after briefly falling asleep, I woke up to see a prince trying to decapitate the princess with a sword. Sure, that's what little kids want to see. Sorry if I ruined that for you but hopefully it will keep you away from the film then. Of course there will be children who enjoy the film simply because it's an animated fairy tale, and little kids don't expect much anyway. But something tells me that people in their 80's will enjoy this old-fashioned crap just as much. It opens on November 27 but try to enjoy your Thanksgiving by not seeing it.
Don Jon (2013)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been acting ever since he was a child, but the 32 year-old actor really made his mark last year by starring in such hits as Looper, Lincoln, and The Dark Knight Rises. Now you can add writer and director to his credits which expand upon the many talents of this young man. He wrote, directed, and stars in the upcoming film Don Jon, and he's not afraid to take on risky topics either.
He stars as Jon, who's known among his friends as "Don Jon" due to his Don Juan lothario-like lifestyle. Jon routinely looks for the hottest ladies in the club to bring home with him. His friends urge him on and encourage his sexual accomplishments. What they don't know, however, is that he's even more addicted to watching porn than having actual sex. Jon narrates portions of the film explaining how you can find the perfect fantasy to indulge in just by turning your computer on, and that no real-life encounter could ever quite measure up to the experience. So no matter how many women he may be successful in bringing home with him, they never quite leave him feeling completely satisfied.
But then one night at the club, Jon spots the ultimate "dime" a perfect 10. Her name is Barbara Sugarman and she's played with extra spunk and sass by Scarlett Johansson. They instantly hit it off. And though Jon might be the ultimate player, he realizes this girl is relationship material because other women he sees just don't compare. Soon enough, they become a serious couple. OK, so he might be able to brush off other ladies but what about that addiction to porn? This brings up a number of concerns such as if watching women online is the same as cheating. And if attaining the ultimate catch in real life isn't enough, than what is? Some people are just never satisfied.
The cast is great, and Tony Danza is especially hilarious playing Jon's tank top wearing guido dad. Julianne Moore also has an interesting supporting role as an off-kilter friend who offers Jon some insight into other ways of looking at things. I thought it would be a distraction having Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson play characters who seem like they could have been on MTV's Jersey Shore (accents and all); but it actually works since people like this do exist and they're portrayed pretty accurately. The movie is an outstanding directorial debut for Gordon-Levitt who mixes comedy and drama with ease. It also manages to make some profound points regarding such taboo topics as sex and pornography. So definitely go see it. It opens on September 27. Just leave the kids at home.
The Way Way Back (2013)
Don't miss this one
There are some movies which sound so simple that it's hard to convey to people just how good they are. The Way, Way Back is one of those movies. It's simply a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy over the course of his summer break. There are no big action scenes or special effects here, just really good writing with actors who can bring such a realistic story to life.
The movie begins with the boy, Duncan, riding in a car with his family to his mother's boyfriend's beach house. As the mother sleeps in the passenger seat, the boyfriend asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10. After replying with a 6, the boyfriend insists that he's just a 3. What's surprising is that this seemingly heartless guy that the mother is dating is played by Steve Carell. Carell is known for playing lovable and funny characters. But he switches it up with this role. That scene sets the tone for how little Duncan is looking forward to this summer trip. And it doesn't help that his mother doesn't really set her boyfriend straight even when she is awake.
To escape the annoyances at his new temporary home, Duncan takes a bike to ride around town with. When he finds a way into the local water park, he meets one of the middle-aged operators there named Owen. Duncan seems fascinated by Owen (played by Sam Rockwell) and how he uses humor in almost everything he says. It seems like he's never met anyone like him who's so worry-free and exudes such confidence all the time. (Sam Rockwell is perfect at playing this care-free kind of man-child.) Owen manages to get Duncan a job at the park where he tries to instill some of that same confidence in him as well. It becomes clear that as they bond with each other, Duncan wishes this would be the kind of guy his mother would date instead. The job at the water park also opens up a whole new fun side that this 14-year-old kid didn't even know he had in him.
If not for the occasional Google or iPad reference, this movie could easily have taken place in the 1980's. The setting as well as the way people dress and talk to each other is right out of an 80's film - is it a coincidence that all of the music played in the movie is from that era? There's a very natural and wholesome vibe to it, especially in the water park scenes - nothing looks too modern or high-tech; it's just a place where people go to have an old-fashioned good time. While Steve Carell may be the most popular name on the poster, the movie has a great cast altogether. Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Little Miss Sunshine), in particular, does an amazing job as the mother torn between defending her son and trying to make things work with the arrogant boyfriend who doesn't always treat them right. But it's the scenes between Duncan and his new older friend Owen that are the heart of the movie. Sometimes it just takes the right person to bring out someone else's true colors and help them be comfortable in their own skin. And sometimes it takes the right movie to make you feel like a kid again. This one will have you yearning for the days when things were a little simpler.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Love and football
Silver Linings Playbook is kind of a Jerry Maguire for 2012. There's a lot of talk about love and a lot of talk about sports - well, football mostly. And it involves two emotionally wounded characters at the forefront. But these two have way more issues going on than Jerry Maguire ever did. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a man who just spent 8 months in a mental institution. He's technically married but problems with his marriage are part of what led him to the institution, and he doesn't know if his wife has any intent of even seeing him again. His best friend tries to hook him up with his wife's sister, Tiffany, even though Pat's main focus is to work things out in his marriage. Tiffany certainly has a dark side, which Pat fails to realize is actually fitting for him. His own wife is scared of him after all. But he's the kind of guy who obsesses on whatever he focuses on. So when he realizes that Tiffany can speak to his wife for him, he starts to pay her more attention. It's apparent that Pat gets both his temper and his obsessive ways from his father. His dad (Robert De Niro) is a hardcore sports fan who seems to care about nothing more than his hometown football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, winning. In his superstitious mind, any little thing can affect the outcome of a game. And that can include his son's well-being and even who he's dating. So Pat generally feels a lot of pressure on him, and much of the film is about his attempts to cope with his surroundings as well as making an effort to better himself as a person. Jennifer Lawrence shines as Tiffany, showing an acting range well beyond her years. It's not only her and Bradley Cooper's finest acting to date, it's also the best acting Robert De Niro has done in at least 10 years. The film even manages to bring a funny Chris Tucker out of seclusion who hasn't been in a movie not named Rush Hour in 15 years. The fact that the film was actually shot in Philadelphia is very beneficial. (Bradley Cooper is also a native.) The movie truly captures the Philly mentality and attitude better than I've ever seen on film before. And as someone who lives in Philadelphia, I know just how crazy the Eagles fans in particular can be; there's no embellishing that here. The movie's got a little something for everyone. Die-hard sports fans can appreciate it as much as those who like a good "chick-flick". But for everyone who watches, they'll see that no matter how bad things get, they can always find another path to get back on track. Silver Linings Playbook opens on November 21.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
A long kiss goodbye
The most anticipated movie of the year has arrived, and I'm sorry to say, but at least for this moviegoer, it disappoints. The Dark Knight Rises is such an overly ambitious film that it tries to pack in way more than it can handle. I know I am in the minority here, but by the final hour of the movie all that I really felt was overkill.
This is the capper in Christopher Nolan's trilogy which re-booted the franchise and did indeed make it more respected than it was after the last few Batman films of the 90's. This series has a much darker tone which I always preferred over the lighter fare of other superhero movies like the Spider-Man ones. The dark tone still works well here, but it's hindered by the blown-up storyline. Just as many people observed with Spider-Man 3, there's just too much going on here. It's not that the new characters of Bane and another Catwoman are what bring the film down; it's just that everything is so dragged out in scene after scene. In fact, the re-introduction of Catwoman was one of the things that worked best. I've never been much of a fan of Anne Hathaway, but her scenes were often the best ones. This is a much smarter and slicker Catwoman than we've ever seen before. And that's exactly what you should expect of a character of that name. Maybe a little more of her and less of some other characters would have served the movie well.
Aside from a drawn-out plot about Batman (Christian Bale) being gone for 8 years and Bruce Wayne trying to get his alter-ego mojo back, it seems like the movie tries a little too hard to give ample screen time to all of the other actors as well. It wants to make sure that returning veterans like Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman are properly accounted for along with all the new guys played by Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Matthew Modine, and Anne Hathaway. This results in many unnecessary scenes in my opinion. There's also a little surprise about one of the characters at the end of the film, but it was something I had already figured out at the beginning. And while the primary villain Bane (played by Tom Hardy) is menacing in his physical appearance, it is a little odd that they chose to give him a voice that sounds like an old geezer from England.
All in all, The Dark Knight Rises was just a bit of a letdown for me. It's not that the expectations were so high that they were hard to live up to, but I actually found this Batman film to be the worst in the trilogy. I have noticed that each one of them has a prolonged climax at the end, but this one seemed 3 times as long and I found myself zoning out while trying to stay interested. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, it really just became a movie loaded with a lot of filler. I mean Malcolm X was 35 minutes longer, yet didn't feel nearly as long as this. There's nothing wrong with a lengthy film as long as each of the scenes are interesting or important to the story. In this case, they were not.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Don't go down those stairs!
You don't see many movies that combine horror and comedy, at least not successfully. The last one to really pull that off was probably Scream. There have been some films in the genre like Shaun of the Dead and Slither, but those focused more on the comedy and were not really scary. The Cabin in the Woods is a new film which has some legitimate scares and also keeps the audience laughing at the same time.
The film has a familiar setup of 5 young, good-looking people staying overnight at a remote cabin in the woods. They're even the stereotypical characters you'd expect to see in a horror film - a jock, a shy guy, a stoner for comic relief, etc. But what's different is that the group is actually being watched the whole time. They're not being watched by some serial killer in the woods or anything like that, but rather via surveillance cameras by an entire company. We learn this early in the film so I'm not giving anything away here. The question that lingers through the film is why are they being watched... is this some sort of test? Are they part of some crazy reality show? Things begin to happen to the group that are straight out of typical horror films. So you also wonder why the people watching them are so okay with what's happening to them. In fact, they have certain control over the situation and are even able to make their own adjustments.
That's basically what keeps you so interested in the ongoings of the film. Instead of just watching these kids try to avoid being killed like any other slasher film, you're watching these other people watching the same thing as you are and wondering what they might do next as well. Just like Scream, The Cabin in the Woods takes the horror genre and tries to re-invent it by doing something completely different. Both films show us what we've seen so many times before with a new perspective. In a way, it's like they're addressing the tired clichés of these films and showing that you can put a fresh spin on them.
The one thing I don't get is why the early buzz on this movie keeps implying there are some big twists in it. Like I said, we know the whole time that they're being watched and that those watching them have some control over the situation. There's no big revelation at the end that would have fooled you or contradicted what you thought was taking place; that's what's necessary to be considered a "twist". But I will say that the movie is well worth seeing, especially for the final 20 minutes alone which will blow some people's minds. It's pretty much a horror fan's dream come true as far as the amount of action and monstrous visuals we're bombarded with. In fact, the end made me wish the film had used something better than what they did use to scare the kids with through most of it. You realize the filmmakers could have taken a much more creative route than what they had the kids running from. That being said, check this out if you're looking for a good horror film that breaks from the norm.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)
Slacking off like a pro
Jeff, Who Lives at Home starts out by referencing a film from 10 years ago. The main character, Jeff, speaks about his love for the movie Signs. That movie was all about signs being sent to us and that we must use those signs as guides for living our lives. This becomes Jeff's mantra for how he lives his life. These signs haven't been getting him anywhere as of yet though. He's a grown-up slacker who still lives at home with his mother as the title of the film says. It's this bohemian free-spirited attitude that has led him to where he is. He seems at peace with things, yet something is missing from his life. His brother Pat is the opposite. He's married, has a job, and even just bought a new Porsche; he doesn't believe in slacking off like Jeff. That doesn't mean everything is going well for him though. He really didn't have the money to comfortably afford the Porsche and you can tell that his wife isn't happy about it. But Pat lives in the moment. While showing off the Porsche to Jeff, they see his wife with another man and start to suspect she's having an affair. Even though these two brothers don't generally get along and seem to despise each other a little, Jeff agrees to help Pat out and find out what's going on. Along the way, they begin to learn about each other and their different ways of approaching things. Pat always thought he had his life together and looked down on Jeff. Now's he realizing that maybe Jeff had a better way of looking at things. Jason Segel and Ed Helms play the 2 brothers and make the best of their roles. There's also an interesting sub-plot about what's going on with their mother (Susan Sarandon) at her job. The movie is part of a recent genre of film called "mumblecore" which generally have low budgets and focus more on the dialogue - sort of like a Quentin Tarantino film without the action. Luckily, the dialogue here is very good and holds your interest throughout. At less than an hour and half (which is very rare nowadays), it doesn't meander at all. It focuses on how we spend our days and seems to have a message of living more carefree. But there are plenty of laughs throughout the film which make it very enjoyable.
Like Crazy (2011)
How far will you go?
It's so refreshing to see that really good movies can still be made once in a while. The Philadelphia Film Festival began this past week and chose a great movie to open with: Like Crazy. It won the Grand Jury Prize for best film at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, and deservedly so. It stars Anton Yelchin, one of those names you may not know but whose face you've probably seen before. He plays Jacob. The other star of the film is Felicity Jones, who won't have as recognizable of a face as she has mainly made movies only in England. She plays Anna. Jacob and Anna meet early in the film while attending the same college. There's an immediate attraction and they instantly hit it off. It's not long before we see how madly in love they fall for each other. It's the kind of love that most people only see in movies and never get to experience for themselves. In fact, they seem so in love and happy together at such an early stage of the film that you wonder where the movie is going from there. Well of course nothing's ever as perfect as it seems, and a big hurdle comes along that stands in their way of complete happiness. Anna is not an American citizen after all. She was attending college in the U.S. but still lives in England. So when she overstays her visa, she finds herself banned from the country. Why did she overstay her welcome? She did it to be with Jacob, of course. When someone is truly in love, they will often do anything they can to be with that person; but they sometimes forget about the consequences of those actions. At this point, the two lovebirds must decide on whether to maintain the new long distance relationship. It's not just any long distance relationship of course, it's an overseas relationship. That's a situation which is pretty tough for just about any couple to pull off. So the movie then shifts its tone to one of compromise and struggle. How much can one person sacrifice for the other? Can they somehow lift the ban, or will Jacob have to move to England thus leaving his current job in the U.S.? Is it all even worth it after it's all said and done? Many questions arise, not to mention the possibility of finding new love in their own respectable countries with someone else. It's a great film dealing with human emotions and how far we will go for another person. The two actors pour their hearts out on screen and it can be mesmerizing at times. Like Crazy opens nationwide on October 28. It's an independent film though so it will surely be shown in limited release, but find it if you can.
Bad Teacher (2011)
Hot for teacher
Comedies today keep trying to push the boundaries more and more to stand out. The Hangover movies are a perfect example of this. Much of it started with There's Something About Mary which grossed people out in a humorous way. The star of that movie, Cameron Diaz, shows her funny side once again in Bad Teacher. This one's not as risqué or shocking, but it tries to stand out with its premise - a teacher who treats her students like crap and could care less about educating them. In most movies like The Hangover, guys are doing all of the crude and nasty stuff. So it's a little refreshing to see a woman do it this time around, even if it's more things she says than does. We do get to see her wail on some kids with a dodgeball though. You feel kind of bad for the kids, but they seem to take it in stride. Maybe they're just happy to have a hot teacher, even if she's not doing her job. Let's face it, most kids aren't excited to learn. Here they get to spend most of their time in the classroom watching movies. I know I would've preferred that when I was in class.
Diaz plays money-seeking Elizabeth Halsey, a woman who somehow managed to become a teacher while waiting to marry her rich fiancé. She completes a year at her school doing the absolute bare minimum of teaching. But her fiancé dumps her after learning of her gold digging ways and now she finds herself stuck teaching at the school that she was just getting ready to leave for good. Elizabeth quickly learns that a new teacher played by Justin Timberlake comes from a very wealthy family. So she sets her radar on him as her next husband to be. He's the complete opposite of her, but that doesn't matter. He's very polite and rather nerdy. In fact, he's much more like Elizabeth's rival teacher Miss Squirrel. Once he starts getting close with the prissy Miss Squirrel, it becomes a battle of wits between the two women to be with him. But Elizabeth is out to get him for all the wrong reasons of course. While she sleeps through class and just plays movies for her students to watch, she spends the rest of her time trying to impress the wealthy new teacher and win him over. Advertisement
Timberlake, who's proved he can be very funny through all his appearances on Saturday Night Live, isn't really given much to do here. He just plays the clean-cut nerdy guy the best that he can. Jason Segal, who plays a fellow gym teacher, gets more of the laughs. His character sees right through Elizabeth but pursues her anyway. He goes along with everything she does but still makes sure to put her in check too. He's the one person at the school that she's able to relate to a little it seems. Watching the film you'll wonder if Elizabeth will find any sort of redemption and change her ways. You get the sense that Segal's character is the one person who can help her with that. The movie has some funny one-liners and interesting scenes, but I wouldn't say it's laugh-out-loud hilarious or anything. Still, it's a pretty funny premise and Cameron Diaz fits perfectly into the role. It's not a movie you'll remember down the road but it's worth checking out at least.